This article was originally posted in the Fall 2013 TaLK Newsletter.
Teach and Learn in Korea is a program that brings students to rural Korean areas to teach English to children.
I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent on the bus just gazing out the window - lost in thought. It’s during these long and lonely bus rides that I get the luxury to reflect upon everything thus far. It all happened so fast, just like how the trees and signs along the roadside would flicker past my eyes in a blur of green and silver. Thoughts race equally fast through my mind: winter orientation, my kids, my school, my teachers, my friends, my trips, lectures, practicum, and my kids. Sometimes a thought would catch my mind’s eye - like how I would catch a glimpse of the wild scenery outside and pause for a look. Wow. Is this for real? Am I really here? I’ve done so much in what seems to be so less time. How have I grown? What have I learned? What should I do for next week’s lesson? These are among a plethora of other questions that keep me from dozing off on the long bus rides. Whenever I reflect, I know that my time in Korea isn’t a dream and that sends shivers down my spine.
I went into TaLK on a six month contract with all intentions to leave the summer of 2013 to return back to Canada and finish up my Bachelors. But Korea was not a country to be overlooked - it shook the very tendrils of my being with its scenery, culture and people in the months that followed my orientation. The application to extend came so quickly, and I knew I needed more time. I had just warmed up to my school and my kids - I’ve finally gotten a hang of their level and what activities they liked to do. It was difficult to find an effective teaching strategy at first because my students had a relatively low English proficiency level but being blessed with smaller classes, I can afford to pay more attention to each student’s needs and that encouraged me to make lesson plans and activities that were multi-leveled and covered a variety of skills. Hearing my mentor teacher tell me how much the students enjoy my class or how passionate they see me as a teacher motivates me like no other. And seeing the seeds of effort that I’ve been putting in my lessons starting to bud through their participation - I felt immensely proud and accomplished.
In addition, my love of food has gotten the best of me many times in Korea - I tried to eat as many different Korean dishes as I possibly could but there was just so many! I want to try them all, even if it means my mouth might feel like it’s on fire for ten minutes from eating a piece of bulddeok. As I learned more Korean, I also began to get used to using the transportation system to travel around more. I had a trip outside my city almost every weekend to visit friends, museums, exhibitions and hike some dauntingly large mountains. I also got the chance to go to Jeju and Japan during my summer vacation. I knew I always had a place to call home when I returned from my weekend adventures to my quaint apartment in Andong. Coming to Korea was my first time living away from home and with that came many responsibilities. Among other things, I learned to budget, to cook and to clean - I might not be the best cook in my apartment but I’m working on it.
Aside from the journey to become a more worldly-person, I want my experiences in Korea to affirm my values and to test my skills. I’ve finally gotten the ball rolling and I wanted to see where it will take me. Coming to Korea, I brought many things with me in my metaphoric suitcase: observation, leadership, presentation, interpersonal, and creative skills. I packed these attributes along with insecurities and old habits. I now know that, what I brought in hopes to magically sort out in Korea won’t happen - not unless you take initiative to make it so. As such, Korea teaches one to truly adapt and change one’s view in order to be more receptive to new experiences and foster personal growth. It was an uncertain challenge to initially get to South Korea but it was another challenge of its own to be living and working in it.
With the insulation of orientation worn to threads, South Korea has slowly lost its novelty and the euphoric haziness it once had. Instead, it has taken on a bright vibrancy and a sort-of solidity where I can now start to plant my roots and grow. With six months of teaching and experiences as a lecturer and practicum instructor at the 11th Generation TaLK orientation under my belt, I find myself thinking again on another long and lonely bus ride as the next extension period draws near.